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Sunday, September 27, 2009


Although a bit lost without our bikes, we have had an amazing few weeks diving in the Red Sea and learning about ancient Egypt. In extreme contrast to Norway, it is hot and sunny every single day here and never rains!

We spent the first few days in the sprawling city of Cairo. It has all the familiar traits of a developing country's capital - crazy tooting traffic, dirty streets, throngs of people and endless poorly constructed apartments. But for a city of over 20 million people, we have found it surprisingly safe and organised. Egypt is a country poor in natural resources, but rich in people power, with a population of 80 million. The land is predominantly uninhabitable desert and consequently 99% of the population are concentrated in just 4% of the land area- along the Nile and its Delta.
As we searched for the Cairo bus station we were befriended by an Egyptian boy called Aladdin. Although we have found most Egyptian men to be sleazy and arrogant, Aladdin was a genuinely nice guy, keen to practice his English (and perhaps secure a Western wife!?). He showed us around Cairo and taught us how to 'walk like an Egyptian' - crossing the street without being hit, by weaving among the moving cars, like crossing a flowing river. He also helped us find a cheap restaurant- not easy with most Cairo eateries closed for Ramadan (the Islamic month of fasting).
We then headed out to the pyramids, located on the outskirts of Cairo. The Giza pyramids, completed in 2550BC were more magnificent than we had imagined. It is believed that they were built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place. At around 140m high, the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years. Pretty impressive ay! Atop grizzly camels we explored the site and enjoyed a magical sunset over the surrounding desert.
Thanks to an after-hours, backgate entrance and a few bribes paid to the police, we enjoyed the pyramids tourist-free. A perfect afternoon, other than our guide attempting to feel us both up - he soon learnt his lesson!! In the evening we were invited back to the camel owner's home to share Iftaar (the meal following sundown during Ramadan). It was a bizarre experience to sit in Mahmoud's lavishly furnished home enjoying delicious Egyptian food, prepared by his six wives - while they remained completely out of sight!! We have found the restrictions and blatant sexism experienced by Egyptian women disturbing. Forced to cover themselves and remain confined to their homes all day - we have actually seen very few local women outside of Cairo. We have a new found appreciation for the freedom and rights that come with being a Western woman.
From Cairo we caught a bus out to the Sinai Peninsula to the small dive town of Dahab. There I had my first experience of scuba diving and completed by open-water dive course through Sinai Divers. I had been quite nervous about learning to dive, but absolutely loved it!! After four days of one-on-one teaching with my excellent German instructor, Laveska, I felt totally relaxed and confident underwater. DahabWith warm, crystal clear waters, stunning coral and incredible animal life the Red Sea is the perfect place to learn to dive. Kate did nine awesome dives while we were in Dahab, including an overnight trip to dive the WWII wreck- SS Thistlegorm. Sunk by German bomber planes in 1941, killing nine people, it now rests at a depth of 30m, with great visibility, making it a perfect dive site. The 126m steamship is like an underwater war museum - full of motorbikes, Bedford trucks, guns and other wartime cargo that never reached its destination. Another highlight for Kate was diving in the Ras Mohammed national park and she was impressed by the wonderful variety of fish and coral on all her dives. (These diving photos are not our own, as we do not have a waterproof camera. We just really wanted to show you what it was like underwater!)
In Dahab we also enjoyed lots of snorkeling, swimming, delicious meals out and even managed to get our hands on some clapped out old bikes! We have really missed having our bikes - the freedom and sense of purpose that comes with cycle touring. In saying that, we are really glad not to be biking here - as we get enough hassles from the Egyptian men just walking down the street! It would help to know some Arabic...
With only twelve days in Egypt, we decided to spend most of it in Dahab rather than travel around and see more. After ten months of being on the move, it was nice to be in one place for ten days! Before flying out of Cairo, we spent a day at the Egyptian museum which was fantastic. It is housed in a large historic building right on the Nile River and has the largest collection of mummies and ancient Egyptian artifacts in the world. We particularly enjoyed the famous "King Tut" section - Pharaoh Tutankhamen's elaborate tomb was discovered remarkably intact (after more than 3000 years!) in the Valley of the Kings in 1923. Artifacts from the tomb on display included the gold funerary mask and sarcophagus, four huge gilded boxes that fit inside each other, chariots, an ancient trumpet, thrones, and even a royal toilet seat.
With three weeks to go we are amping for our time in Nepal with Tom, but we are also looking forward to getting home! When we get back to New Zealand we will spend a month travelling around the country catching up with friends and family, before resuming jobs at Tauranga Hospital over summer.

See you all soon!!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Norway II and England (again)

2600km, 37 tunnels, 18 ferries and breathtaking scenery at every turn.....Norway has been an absolute blast! The last few weeks cycling from Trondheim to Bergen have been tough - definitely no risk of sunburn, dehydration or heat-stroke, in fact we were on the verge of hypothermia nearly every day! We left Trondheim on a bit of high after a brilliant time spent with Chris and Emily and coming close to securing jobs for our return to New Zealand. We covered 250km from Trondheim to Molde in one and a bit days. The riding was rather unremarkable and only memorable for getting caught in a massive thunder and lightning storm, eating crackers and cheese for dinner (too wet and cold to cook!) and having to take a longer route due to a closed road.......

We were very pleased to reach Molde, where our warmshowers hosts Berry and Robert kindly picked us up, as the undersea tunnel to their island home is banned to bikes. Berry and Robert were wonderful hosts. We were treated to a fantastic salmon meal and home-made wine, enjoyed with stunning views of the mountains and fjord from their dining room table.

After a late start the following day we set off toward the Trollingsen Pass- one of Norway's most famous sections of road. The eleven hairpins and steep incline is built into what looks like the dead end of a valley - surrounded by enormous peaks and powerful, roaring waterfalls. The climb was one of our favourites on the whole trip and we were rewarded at the top with magnificent views, a magical sunset and great alpine campspot at the pass.
The next morning we awoke to the familiar pitter patter of rain. This was the beginning of a six day stretch of almost continuous rain and very cold riding. Our feet were continuously wet and cold and pitching a soggy tent each night became a bit tiresome. Descents became unbearably cold with heavy downpours and icy wind. We actually looked forward to uphills to keep us warm. We discovered the warmth of Norwegian petrol stations and treated ourselves to coffee and waffles. Although it was pretty grim at times and definitely the coldest and wettest either of us had ever been, we pushed on and kept smiling - through chattering teeth. We figured it was the weather's way of easing us out of cycle touring! A typical Norwegian weather forecast
At least the rain makes the waterfalls more spectacularWe spent a day exploring the peaks surrounding the small town of Loen (Jostedalsbreen National Park). We climbed a 1600m peak and had amazing views of the lake and fjords below. We have found that with all the hours spent biking, our walking and running muscles have become really weak. Although we feel quite fit our legs get so tired walking!

The night before we were due to fly to London we got caught in a fierce storm. We decided to stay put for the night and ride the last 60km to Bergen airport in the morning. We spent ages at the library checking our email and doing some jobs. When the librbary closed at 7pm we made a dash for the nearby shopping centre. While enjoying a meal of blue cheese, crackers, chips and doughnuts (very healthy!) Kate happened to look in our document wallet.....'Matilda- how come there is only one passport in here?' In a sudden sickening moment I realised I had Left Kate's passport in a photocopy machine at the closed until 11am the following morning. Surprisingly, Kate handled the news incredibly well! So with no passport, a flight the next day, galeforce winds and horizontal rain we set about finding shelter for the night. The winds were too strong for us to pitch our tent, but luckily we managed to find a perfectly positioned Info centre porch to hunker down in. Like true hobbos we spent a restless night hoping the storm would pass and that Kate's passport could be recovered.......Luckily, by morning the weather had settled and the wonderful librarians showed up early to work! So with passports safely back in hand we set off for Bergen.....our last ride!

We made it!!!

After leaving Norway we spent a few days in the UK catching up with lots of friends. We also cleaned and packed our bikes and sent them back to NZ by boat. It was awesome staying with my childhood friend Kellie Hinds and we had a great weekend up in Sheffield with Johnny, Claire and Ruth (UK docs we worked with in Whakatane). Also very cool to briefly catch up with Matty and Becky, who had just flown over from New Zealand for a holiday with Becky's family- made us amped up for mountain biking back at home. Walking in the Peak district...Some familiar faces in a quaint English garden

15000km on the bike, 20 countries and endless stories to tell, this has been the journey of a lifetime. We have seen so many incredible sights, met so many generous people and have learned so much about our crazy, complicated world. Thank you to all those people who have made out trip possible through their advice, hospitality and support. We are both getting super excited about returning to New Zealand, but are also really looking forward to our time in Egypt and meeting up with Tom Ritchie for three weeks in Nepal.

Goodbye beautiful Norway...